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Illinois group’s policy proposal could save the Byron Nuclear Plant

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BYRON (WREX) — From the moment the Exelon plant in Byron announced its plans to close in the fall of 2021, the community jumped into action to try and find a solution to keep the facility alive.

Now the Byron School District, Board of Education and Fire Protection District announced their support for a proposal from Climate Jobs Illinois.

That ten point proposal advocates for nuclear power playing a big roll in Illinois' transition to renewable energy. Byron School District Superintendent Buster Barton says stripping away that much power right now would leave major holes in the grid across the state.

"Before you take away something as valuable as nuclear energy, you got to be able to make sure you have other pieces in place so you can keep that grid stable," Barton said.

Barton went on to say that if the Byron plant and others in the state were to shut down, the state might cause more environmental harm bringing power in from other states that don't use carbon-free emissions.

"To remove that, in the midst of trying to increase renewable energy, you're going to leave a big void," Barton said. "That's what's happening out west, and citizens are going to pay a big price either with rolling brownouts or the cost of electricity."

Additionally, the CIJ proposal includes something called a 'Just Transition.' If the state decided not to keep the plant operating, the proposal says Illinois should give that city aid. The proposal calls for 3-5 years in wages to workers and taxes to the city if something like the Byron plant got shut down.

90th District Representative Tom Demmer says these proposals aren't falling on deaf ears. Rather, he says his fellow lawmakers are open to this approach.

"People have really brought an open mind towards what we can do to support these facilities," Demmer said. "There really hasn't been any opposition or pushback to the idea yet."

Demmer says lawmakers are in the process of hearing proposals from groups like the CIJ, and discussing these policies with each other. There is not timetable in Springfield to vote on the issue, but the same can't be said for the Byron Exelon Plant.

The company has previously stated it will need some kind of action before the spring of 2021 to avoid closing down. Demmer knows time is of the essence when it comes to saving the plant which employs hundreds in his district.

"We can't drag our feet on this," Demmer said. "We can't take too long or we risk getting caught up in something that's out of our control."

If you want to read Climate Jobs Illinois' full ten point proposal, click here.

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William Ingalls

William Ingalls is the weekend reporter at WREX. He joined the team in 2019 as a photographer after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and English from Augustana College. William was born and raised in Rockford and went to high school at Christian Life.

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